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Schools turning to anti-plagiarism software to catch cheating students

No more copy and paste: more schools are using anti-plagiarism software to catch students.

No more copy and paste: more schools are using anti-plagiarism software to catch students.

Victorian schools are increasingly using plagiarism detection software to help mark students' work and ensure assignments are not copied from the internet.

Fairfax Media has confirmed that at least 21 Victorian schools are now using the program Turnitin to detect plagiarism. Australian Educator  magazine also recently reported that teachers at a South Australian school were using the software.

According to the Turnitin website, the program compares students' work with more than 45 billion web pages – both current and archived. It also compares the assignments with a database of more than 337 million student papers.

The program then provides a report on the percentage of "matched content" included in the students' work.

Mac.Robertson Girls' High School has been using Turnitin for at least two years.

Principal Toni Meath said the program encouraged students to consider the originality of their work, and that it was rare for them to be caught plagiarising.

Turnitin is widely used by Australian universities.

Dr Meath said the software helped prepare students for the rigours of university education.

"In this cut and paste age it's really important when girls are researching they understand those works belong to someone else," she said.

Dr Meath said Turnitin helped teachers to provide honest and accurate feedback to students.

"We have high ethical standards," she said. "Our young girls here have the potential to be brilliant writers. If we don't give them honest, accurate feedback they may not reach their potential."

In Australia the software is sold by Aldis Associates. The company's customer relations manager, Alana Firth, said independent schools were the biggest Turnitin users in the Victorian school sector.

She said almost 350 schools across Australia had bought a licence for the software, and she expected more Victorian schools to take up the program.

"The trend is definitely growing," she said.

Ms Firth said schools could use the program to teach students how to reference their sources properly, while universities predominantly used it as a plagiarism detection tool.

She said the program included an online grading function that allowed teachers to make detailed comments in writing and voice, which could be attached to students' papers. It also has a "peer review" component, in which students can mark their classmates' work anonymously.

Ms Firth said teachers had reported that the software saved them hours of work because they no longer had to find the source of copied material when they suspected a student had plagiarised.

"[Teachers] would spend hours trawling the internet themselves looking for the source of that sentence or paragraph," she said.

American broadcaster NPR has reported more than half of all higher education institutes in the US and about a quarter of all high schools use Turnitin.

Ms Firth said many TAFE institutes were also using the program.

For more education stories visit facebook.com/theageeducation

8 comments so far

  • I have two main gripes with TurnItIn. First is that the company keeps a copy of whatever you submit to it in perpetuity; you have no option of opting out of this. You either have to give your permission for them to hold your content, or you don't submit. TurnItIn makes money due to the content you and others have submitted to it in the past. Is it right that you should not profit from TurnItIn's success despite your contribution to its database, no matter how small?

    Second is that teachers must understand what the similarity scores mean. TurnItIn is particularly bad at denser documents, and often mistakes common phrases as being copied from other documents. It's critical to ensure that students aren't dissuaded from using certain expressions simply because they are commonly used in English writing.

    Commenter
    TurnAround
    Date and time
    September 02, 2014, 1:01PM
    • Your understanding of Turnitin is too simplistic. It won't detect common phrases, common figures of speech etc. It ignores quotes and citations and gives percentage score of material matching other sources. If phrases match too many sources, ie a phrase such as "Melbourne is the capital of Victoria" it skips over them.

      Commenter
      Fjh
      Date and time
      September 02, 2014, 2:09PM
  • Rather simple to bypass, so you have to use a thesaurus now and then. Meh.

    To be sure you can use writecheck.com (which is run by the same people that run turnitin) . Small fee and you can ensure that the copy that you do eventually hand in won't be flagged for plagiarism.

    Commenter
    Cookie Monster
    Date and time
    September 02, 2014, 1:44PM
    • The turnitin software uses the same thesaurus and will catch phrases and paragraphs using this technique.

      Commenter
      Fjh
      Date and time
      September 02, 2014, 2:10PM
  • TurnItIn also doesn’t take into consideration correctly referenced citations. It counts anything in inverted commas as a similarity. To get a true reading of similarity you need to remove anything that is cited in inverted commas. TurnItIn also keeps any drafts you submit so if you have run a draft through the program and then later run another draft through, it will show as all plagiarised because the program is already holding a copy of the draft you first submitted.

    Commenter
    BK
    Date and time
    September 02, 2014, 2:02PM
    • This program has been in use at Latrobe for over at least a decade. When I did computer science it was a problem. For smaller programming assignments there was an unavoidable amount of similarities and for a major assignment I got ddragged in for letting another student apparently plagiarize my work.

      Lucky for me I was friends with a small, but loud group of students and therefore known to staff. One of the lecturers was able to vouch for me when I said I was not friends with and had never met the student who "copied" me.

      I wonder how turnitin is going now with all the "hello world!"output assignments with years of previous work to compare.

      Commenter
      Amanuet
      Date and time
      September 03, 2014, 2:08AM
      • Please no more Turnitin, please; you people drove me mad with this idiotic and imbecile thing for years....didn't help anyone.

        Commenter
        Anti-Mediocrity
        Location
        Sydney
        Date and time
        September 03, 2014, 4:06PM
        • Simply set in class, closed book assessment tasks and you'll go along way to solving the problem.

          Commenter
          Con
          Date and time
          September 03, 2014, 8:00PM

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